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In defense of Michael Jordan

By Glenn Sacks
web posted January 28, 2002

Michelle loves her career. She always has. But her husband doesn't want her to keep the job she loves. He wants her at home.

Michelle feels betrayed--after all, she had this career long before she married, and her husband knew from the day they met that she had dedicated her life to her work. He knew about the travel and the demands of the job, as well as its rich material rewards--rewards which he has enjoyed equally.

Michelle tried to submit to her husband's demands. She even gave up her career for a while and tried to be home with her family. But she wasn't happy. She felt confined and unfulfilled, as if an important part of her was missing. Sometimes she felt as if she were losing her identity. Finally she told her husband that she was unhappy and wanted to go back to her career. Her husband told her not to. When she returned anyway, he filed for divorce.

Now her husband wants full custody of her kids, their home, and at least half of the money Michelle earned. Michelle knows that she has little chance of keeping her kids because the family courts will hold her career against her.

Michelle probably believes that this is unfair and wonders what she did to deserve this. Except that Michelle doesn't exist. Michael does. Michael Jordan, that is.

After 12 years of marriage, Jordan's wife Juanita filed for divorce earlier this month and is seeking permanent custody of the couple's three children, their 25,000-square-foot home, and her share of the couple's property. Under Illinois law she may be awarded up to 90 per cent of their assets.
Michael might be wishing he were Michelle about right now, for Michelle would have our sympathy. In fact, we'd see ringing op-eds telling us how selfish and controlling Michelle's husband is, and bemoaning the way our society punishes independent women for pursuing their careers.
Michael, however, isn't getting off so easy.

"Most Valuable Jerk" is how Deborah Simmons of the Washington Times described Jordan in her recent column, where she criticized Jordan for returning to basketball and pinned responsibility for the divorce squarely on him. Change "Air Jordan" to "Err Jordan" writes Barry Cooper of Black Voices.com, speculating that Jordan caused his divorce because he "erred in some rather spectacular fashion."

Michael Jordan
Jordan

Michael is to blame because he allowed his "Lesser Self...to make a fool of his Better Self," opines Eric Zorn in Jordan's hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. In the same paper Rick Morrissey scolds Jordan, noting that "An ugly divorce...will be tough on Jordan's three children," but that Jordan "should have thought about that a long time ago."

In discussing relationships, American society has taken the immense complexity and difficulty of marriage and family life and reduced it to one simple rule--when in doubt, blame the man.
Of course, it is quite possible that Juanita is right, and that Michael shouldn't have come back to basketball. Maybe he wasn't spending enough time with the family. In defense of Michael, one could argue that at age 38, a comeback was only possible now or maybe next year--after that the opportunity would be gone for good. At the same time, Juanita could argue that before you know it the kids will be grown up and gone for good, too. But Jordan did try--he gave up basketball for two years. And the man has been a basketball player all his life. Playing basketball is what he does.

No doubt there is more to the breakup than Michael's return to basketball. There have been rumors of philandering about both Michael and Juanita--mostly concerning Michael, who was reportedly followed for four years by a private detective hired by Juanita.

While it is true that men are more likely to struggle with monogamy than women, our society falsely assumes that every man is a potential philanderer but his wife is always a faithful, loyal doormat. Nancy Marshall, ex-wife of former major league baseball pitcher Mike Marshall, mocked this idea of female docility in her book Home Games and reported on the raucous extra marital sexual escapades of baseball wives as well as husbands. She wrote:

"Often reporters ask [athletes'] wives how they feel about their husbands being on the road all alone...it never occurs to anyone that while the guys are on the road, the wives are at home by themselves...Just once I would like a reporter ask a ballplayer, ‘Do you worry about what your wife is doing while you're gone?' If they don't worry, maybe they should."

Even during the allegedly morally pure 1940s and 1950s there were high rates of female (as well as male) infidelity. In fact, DNA examinations taken half a century ago showed that that at a bare minimum 10 per cent of the fathers who signed their babies' birth certificates were unknowingly claiming paternity of children who weren't theirs.

Unlike many divorced fathers, Jordan will probably come out of all of this relatively unscathed. He'll lose a lot of money, but he'll probably still have plenty left. And Juanita is probably too good a mother (or would be too embarrassed) to try to block Jordan's visitation rights.

Still, it doesn't seem quite fair. After all, Michelle (sigh) is a victim, a soaring eagle held hostage by the constraints of a cruel society that just never seems to want women to be truly free.
And Michael? Oh, he's just another jerk. Good thing she got rid of him.

Glenn Sacks' columns have appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Salt Lake City Tribune, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He invites readers to visit his website at www.GlennJSacks.com.

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